I have translated few of Sujatha’s short stories here including his best short story Nagaram – City – Sujatha. I selected this story for only one reason. I grew up near Ayodya Mandapam in West Mambalm. We used to go there for religious discourses when we were students. Also during the music sesaon in winter (if you can a couple of degrees drop in temperature as winter, but that’s Madras/Chennai) and listen to all famous Carnatic Musicians who gave brilliant performances for free.
A simple story which narrates change in attitude of a father.
Krishnamurthy with lot of joy called her on telephone, “Honey Kalai Chelvi, Passport, Visa and air ticket – all ready. We are going by Singapore Airlines. Singapore, Narita and San Francisco. Anderson will come to the airport. Have you packed everything?”
“I am still stuffing” replied Kalai Chelvi.
“Oh hell. You have been stuffing for a month. Not over?”
“If my husband has been sleeping for a month, what can I do?”
“Only two days are left. I will go to Mambalam and show my face.”
Krishnamurthy hesitated. “Hmm. You don’t come. Not now. Dad is still not pacified.”
Her voice raised. “When will he be pacified. After I become sixty years old?”
“No no. Once we have a child.”
“Non sense. Am I from a different planet?”
“Look let’s not start this topic when we are happy?”
“Does your father know we are going to USA?”
“I have not told him yet.”
“Look Krish. Listen carefully. I don’t like leaving India without meeting your dad. Dammit. What is the problem if I meet him? Will he eat me? Have I sinned?”
“Not like that, Oh My God… How am I going to tell him? OK let me think of something. I will tell him she wants to meet you before leaving. If he says yes….”
“Why does he hate me so much?” she cleared the tears from her eyes.
“You won’t understand yaar. Because of me, they are into lot of misunderstanding… disappointment…”
“They have not even seen me!”
“I have shown your photo to mom.”
“That’s not enough.”
“OK OK don’t shout.”
“Look Krish. First you need to build some courage. I am not coming to USA without meeting your mom and dad. We have not had a Gandharva marriage. We are properly married in a Registered office with friends and elders as witnesses”
“All right. I will take you on Friday.”
“Just for five minutes before going to airport? That’s not on.”
“OK I will take you” he sounded harsh.
In West Mambalam, between hundreds of apartments, there was a small house which looked very odd. His father was sitting in the porch, making thread using a Chakra. He had become lean since he last saw him, unshaven hair on his face. Tuft of hair.
He looked at him, top to bottom and continued his threading. “Parvathi, your son has come. I am going to the shop” he got up.
“Wait dad. I want to talk to you.”
Dad gave him a wounded look.
“What’s there to talk to me. Everything has become a laughing-stock.”
“This is something else dad.”
“I have nothing to talk to you. You have betrayed us. Stabbed us in the back. First you accept that.”
“OK dad. Yes. We are going to USA coming Friday.”
“Go by all means. Conquer the world and come.”
“Kalai Chelvi wants to meet both of you before we leave.”
“Who is Kalai Chelvi?”
“Don’t play dad. It’s my wife Kalai Chelvi.”
“Oh… you are married?”
“Dad, why are you troubling me? How many days you will keep this anger? What do you want me to do? I should go from house to house to conduct Amavasya Tharpanam* Or you want me to sit in the Mandapam and recite Rudram and vedas…?” before he could continue, mom came and retrieved him from dad.
Mom said, “his anger has still not subsided. We have been ashamed so much. We don’t have any enmity with that girl. But we broke our promise to Natraj Iyer. We have booked the marriage hall and we even made Mangal sutra. We have informed the band and put shamiana.”
“I know mom. Did Pavitra suffer because of this?”
“She was married off immediately. She is beautiful and qualified. Any one will be happy to marry her. Only we are not fortunate to have her as our daughter-in-law. I don’t know if your wife is dark or fair-complexioned. Will she be as beautiful as Pavitra?”
“I showed you her photo mom!”
“Yes. I saw. Little chubby. She looks like your elder sister.”
“Mom!” he looked at her with anger.
“We both have got a good assignment in America. Before going, you have to pacify dad latest by tomorrow.”
“Come! Let’s ask him now.”
Mom spoke with firmness to dad “Let it go… we will call her. Marriage is over anyway. We, as elders have to adjust.”
“What do you want me to do now? If I say no, will you stop cooking for me?”
“The girl wants to meet you and seek your blessings.”
“What is so special now?”
“Dad, I told you. We are going to America. It may be two years before we come back.”
“Do you think we won’t be alive till then?”
“Dad, why are you talking like this?”
Dad who was making the thread into Poonal** and knotted it. He took turmeric paste and put it on the knot and with great skill, like a Bharatanatyam mudra. He made the Poonal into an eight and collected them between his fingers. Krish was waiting patiently. His father was thinking deeply.
“OK, new moon (Amavasya) is coming and I will be in the shop. Ask her to come and meet me in the shop. You just want me to see her. No?”
“See and talk to her dad. She is a very good girl.”
Excite, Krishnamurthy called Kalai Chelvi on her mobile phone.
“Hi Kalai. Good news. You come to Ayodya Mandapam immediately.”
“Where is that place?”
“Ayodya… the birth place of Rama in West Mambalam.”
“Was Lord Rama born in West Mambalam?”
“Cut the comedy. Just tell the Auto driver Ayodya Mandapam in West Mambalam. He will take you there.”
“Is your dad living in Ayodya Mandapam?”
“No. He has a shop just opposite.”
“You come and see. OK?”
When Kalai alighted from the rickshaw, he took her to the shop and introduced her, “Dad this is Kalai Chelvi.”
Dad looked at her for a second and started talking to some else, “Come sir. All ceremonies over?” Kalai Chelvi looked at the ‘shop’. Nama katti, Vibhuthi Packets, Kumkum boxes, palm leave boxes, rudraksha chains, sloga books, carved wooden boxes and some strange looking items were there. She thought the entire shop would have goods worth not more than fifty rupees.
“Sir, your son and I studied together in IIT. We are working together in a company here. Krish is a gem. You have brought him up very well.”
“Wrong opening partner” murmured Krish.
“Oh! Who brought him up?” dad looked at her with cynicism.
She continued, “we both have got a chance to go to America.”
“Yes he told me. Go by all means.”
“Sir What shop is this?”
“Poonal and other things. Brahmins have a lot of duties to perform and many traditions to follow. First they should listen to their parents. Who follows all these now? Just some ceremonies are followed.”
“All these are for Gods?” she asked.
“Not just for Gods. One should conduct thavasam*** and give food to prohits. This has been traditional work in our family for centuries. Let it stop with me. We sold his mother’s Mangal Sutra (தாலி) to pay his tuition fees.”
“Sir My parents sold farming bullocks for my fees.”
“Did you parents name you Kalai Chelvi? Or did you pay money to change it?”
“No sir. Only one name… Kalai Chelvi.”
“What’s your mother’s name?”
“No God’s name in your family?”
“Dad! Kalai Chelvi means Goddess Saraswathi.”
“What is your caste?”
Krish thought he had it. He interrupted, “dad even I don’t know that.”
“You keep quiet.”
“Krish let him ask. I will reply. Sir, we are from backward community.”
“What caste in backward community?”
Before she could answer an Auto Rickshaw came and stopped in front of the shop. Two people from the front seat and three from the back seat got out with thick rulers, entered the shop and started banging his dad’s head. Another guy started to stab him in the shoulder and Kalai Chelvi tried to stop them. They just shouted and threw all the things kept in the shop on the floor, poured kerosene on top and lit it. They ran out of shop, yelling, “you all die” and got into the Auto rickshaw and sped off. Some slogans, barely audible, filled the air.
Krish called his travel agent and postponed his trip and asked them to re-book the tickets. He rushed to P.R hospital. In Room No 9, Kalai Chelvi was holding his dad’s hands and feeding him Horlicks with a spoon. He was heavily bandaged on his shoulders and head. One of his eyes had gone inside and his lips were swollen.
“Good heavens! You escaped Dad!”
“Why did they beat me? Why did they burn my shop? I did not do anything bad to anyone” he said in a soft voice.
Then he turned to Kalai Chelvi, “Thank God you both did not get hurt. Nothing happened to you when you are about to leave for America. Have the goondas been caught?”
“They just arrested someone and asked me to identify him. All eye-wash dad” Krish replied.
Nurse came and asked, “Have you brought Glucose?” Krishnamurthy gave the Glucose bottles to Nurse.
“Dad, you don’t have high BP or diabetes. They will discharge you in one week.”
“Are you not going to America?”
Kalai replied, “dad we have postponed it by a week.” She massaged his head softly and cleaned spittle from his lips. “Dad you have lot of hair. Krish I asked you to get a comb?”
“Kalai let him go. You stay with me” said dad.
“Kalai Chelvi looked at Krishnamurthy. He smiled and said, “No dad. She is the system programmer and I am the architect. We both need to go.”
“OK travel well. Which place are you going to?”
“San Jose and Sacramento, two places dad. Both are in California.”
“OK just enquire if there is a prohit to do Tharpanam during Amavasy.* I will come there with necessary tools. I can’t take this beating anymore.
Kalai Chelvi’s tears fell on his dad’s wrists.
* (Amavasya Tharpanam is done on every new moon day in memory of parents who are dead).
** (holy thread worn by Brahmins)
*** Death anniversary ceremonies for parents done every year.
Featured Image Courtesy: By Ramkrishiyer – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45997259